THE three main political parties agreed to form a tripartite government on November
5 ending a political standoff that had dragged on for three months and threatened
to undermine Cambodia's fragile political stability.
A young King Sihanouk salutes in one of the posters erected in Phnom Penh to commemorate the King's 81st birthday and the 50th anniversary of independence on November 9. See story pages 12-13.
King Norodom Sihanouk mediated the agreement at a five-hour meeting held at the Royal
Palace on November 5. He had said that any political party who failed to compromise
in the effort to form a new government would be condemned by history.
According to the terms announced in a hand-written communique released by King Sihanouk,
both Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the president of the National Assembly,
would retain the positions they held in the previous government, provided that Funcinpec
accepts Hun Sen as Prime Minister-a point which has not yet been agreed upon. A new
position, vice president of the National Assembly, will also be created for a member
of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
However, sources close to the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) said Rainsy was attempting
to win greater powers within the new government by demanding that he be named the
new Minister of Economy and Finance, a position he held from 1993-4 as a member of
the Funcinpec party before being sacked by Prince Ranariddh. He is also reportedly
pushing for his wife, MP Tioulong Saumura, to be appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs.
One CPP official described the effort as "too greedy".
Sources close to the talks at the Palace say that there has already been an unofficial
agreement to allow Rainsy to become a Deputy Prime Minister.
Funcinpec looks set to be the main loser in any final split of government portfolios.
"If Funcinpec shares its position with SRP, it will lose about six or seven
ministers and about 28 secretaries of state and about 50 or 60 under-secretaries
of state," said Kheiu Kanharith, spokesman at the Ministry of Information, on
He said the Alliance of Democrats must agree on a power-sharing agreement among themselves
before the CPP could finalize negotiations with the two parties. He also hinted at
a political shuffle within the party itself.
"There will be some changes in the CPP after the new government officially forms,"
he said. He did not elaborate.
Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the political breakthrough as an encouraging sign
on November 6 after a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Royal Cambodian
Armed Forces in Kampong Speu.
He told reporters that he expected his party to work well in the tripartite government,
an arrangement he had previously refused to consider.
"I think that [the meeting] was a big success, that we could solve the problem
[of the political standoff]," said Hun Sen.
Rainsy also offered hope for progress, but cautioned that many of the details had
not been agreed upon.
"There are still many things to work out in front of us," Rainsy told reporters
outside the Royal Palace after the November 5 meeting. "Some principles were
successfully agreed upon, but it was not 100 percent consensus. There is more work
to be done."
In a press statement released on November 6, the Alliance of Democrats clarified
its position about finally ending the political deadlock.
It affirmed the Alliance's acceptance of Hun Sen as the CPP candidate for Prime Minister,
but stated that his appointment was still subject to a favorable vote in the National
Assembly. Any candidate must receive two-thirds of the vote in order to be installed
as Prime Minister.
The statement added that neither party had accepted Hun Sen as Prime Minister yet
and that SRP refused to accept any position in the government without "assurances
that the system is reformed".
SRP spokesman Ung Bun Ang said two committees had been formed to address these issues.
He said Say Chhum from the CPP, Kol Pheng from Funcinpec and Son Chhay from the SRP
were appointed to lead the committee to review the National Assembly's internal rules.
The second committee is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng from the CPP, Prince
Norodom Sirivudh from Funcinpec and Ou Bun Long from SRP, to discuss the policies
and strategy of the government for the next five years.
"The discussion today is very friendly and cordial," said Bun Ang on November
5. "The National Assembly will be working soon and now let the two committees
work on their issues."
The CPP won 73 out of the 123 seats in the National Assembly in the July 27 national
elections, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution
to create a one-party government. Funcinpec won 26 seats while SRP took 24.
Based on the election results, the CPP was expected to press for at least 15 ministry
posts, while Funcinpec and SRP could expect to control five each in a 25-portfolio
That was reflected in the meeting at the Palace on November 5, when the three parties
agreed that "60 percent" of the ministries (15) would be allocated to the
CPP while the remaining (10) would be split evenly between Funcinpec and SRP, Kanharith
said after the meeting.
He added that if the co-ministers in the Ministries of Interior and Defense remained,
then the CPP would be able to name the Minister of Information, currently a Funcinpec
The CPP is expected to keep the portfolios for the Ministries of Defense, Interior,
Economy and Finance, Foreign Affairs, and the Council of Ministers. Less influential
ministries such as Health, Rural Development and Education are likely to be divided
up among the other two parties.
"The details are going to be worked out over the next few weeks," said
Kao Kim Hourn, director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. "This
is going to be what all the bargaining is about. It's not just the number of portfolios,
it's the key posts as well.